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Avoiding ADA Complaints in County Employment
Dear HR Doctor,
My county is experiencing complaints alleging that we discriminate against
the disabled in hiring. I am concerned as a county leader about a growing number
of these complaints. What do you advise?
In 1992 the greatest expansion in a generation of America's landmark Civil
Rights Act of 1964 took effect. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
extended employment nondiscrimination to "qualified persons with disabilities" -
tens of millions of new "protected group members."
The vagueness of some of the words and definitions in the ADA create many
opportunities for plaintiffs' attorneys to attack personnel policies. They
create many challenges for human resource professionals and for county elected
and appointed officials as well.
In response to this challenge, most ADA implementation has been "defensive" -
respond to complaints already filed, develop "reasonable accommodations" after a
problem arises, etc. These are important components of a program to minimize
However, the HR Doctor urges that another component be consciously built into
county programs - a proactive program to "get in front" of liabilities.
- Prepare a clearly written statement making nondiscrimination based on
disability a formal part of the county's high-priority policies.
- Advise all employees about this policy and about each individual's
responsibility to help the county be a model employer by positive, job-related
support for colleagues with disabilities.
- Involve employee unions by assertively negotiating the inclusion of the
county policy into any union contracts and securing formal union endorsement,
including understanding that strong disciplinary action will result from
- Provide specific training and support for managers and supervisors to
improve their understanding of ADA issues and the effects of their actions and
their role as "agents" of the organization.
- Add specific sensitivity training where appropriate such as offering sign
language courses, awareness of epilepsy, cerebral palsy, etc. to persons in
public contact positions, including law enforcement officers.
- Survey facilities and equipment for possible accessibility improvements,
such as telecommunications devices for the hearing impaired.
- Insure that HR staff is prepared to respond quickly, respectfully and
knowledgeably to applicant and employee questions and challenges.
- Have expert resources available to support decision making. These may
include outside consultants or attorneys, however, developing ADA knowledge
within the organization is the HR Doctor's preferred approach.
- Collaborate with disabled advocacy groups. They have experience and
expertise, which can be a valued asset to county policy-makers. Their
constructive criticism can be very helpful as well.
- Take complaints seriously and have a well-announced available internal
complaint investigation procedure which features protection from retaliation
for making good-faith complaints.
The HR Doctor's advice is to think of ADA as a wonderful public policy,
opening opportunities to millions. Take it from one whose parents were disabled,
by focusing county thinking on "abilities" rather than "disabilities," the ADA
becomes a positive part of HR policies, and the county government as well as
disabled persons come out "winners."
The HR Doctor
(If anyone is interested in obtaining additional information on the HR
column or joining the National Association of County Human Resource
Administrators, please contact Donna Boykin at 202/942-4207.)
Doctor was written by Phil Rosenberg, director of Human Resources, Broward
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